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Scanner Shut-Off

Story by Jesse Flickinger

Reporters in Billings used to rely on their police scanner to alert them to crimes. These days, they have to be more proactive to make it to the scene on time.

As part of a nationwide trend, the Billings Police Department started encrypting police transmissions between dispatch and officers, as well as chatter among officers, in May 2014. Billings Police spokesman Kevin Iffland said the change would help police combat crime and protect private information.

Losing the police scanner as an alert system left reporters scrambling.

“Sometimes we don’t know a situation has occurred until after it’s over,” said Chris Cioffi, who covers cops and courts for the Billings

Other media organizations around the country have appealed to police to create special scanner privileges for reporters. Cioffi, on the other hand, has found ways to deal with the shift. He pays special attention to context clues in other official chatter to discover if something significant is occurring.

Or he simply calls EMS services to report the news.Should police allow reporters access to their scanners? Three reporters said yes, one said no.